We hereby agree…

A friend mentioned yesterday of a rather strange practice in their firm. Each time two divisions agree on anything that demands cooperation, they sign a document. A physical document. It is something like what happens when two nations sign a treaty.

My first reaction was that of WTF. This was a marquee IT services company and to me this step looked like moving back the forces of corporate evolution of decision making. I mean, can’t the two Divisional Heads just agree over e-mail or something? As I let my prefrontal cortex overpower the amygdala, the idea did not seem as ridiculous as it did at first. Divisions of large companies operate quite like independent entities and can become bureaucratic in their ways. Thus in way two such Divisions agreeing to collaborate is almost akin to two small companies forging an alliance and the exchange of signed dossiers doesn’t look too bad from that perspective.

A ceremonious announcement of an event puts a very public and visible stake on the ground, around which sub-events gather momentum. Pictures of reaching an agreement on e-mail are least likely to be flashed on the intranet or make it to the monthly magazine. Now think of the two Divisional Heads exchanging documents, shaking hands and key managers having cheese and wine after the event – very photogenic and intranet-friendly visual stuff. Everyone knows – difficult to hide. This then becomes the fountain-head of subsequent ancillary projects.

Product Managers endlessly reach such understanding with Engineering, Architecture, Testing etc; so should all those have signing ceremonies? Not really. To my mind three types of inter-functional (or inter-departmental) agreements merit a formal event. One, when the functions or departments have never interacted in the past so it becomes important to show a visible commitment. Two, when the agreement is a touch nebulous. Having a formal agreement puts out a strong message of intent that forces subsequent interactions to iron out the wrinkles. Three, when the two parties have had a history of failing at collaboration. The army and the navy of a country hardly showcase their reaching agreements but for Israel and Palestine it is a vital necessity.

Happy weekend, everyone. I am off for a go-no-go conference call. No, there will be no handshakes and exchanging of signed documents after everyone hangs-up.